This is one of the times of year when I spend a great deal of time in my study reading reports—in this case, of pupils in Year 10 and up. While in some ways I would rather be around the school, spending time with our young people, reading about what they have been studying and achieving, their progress and development, their interests and activities is a real pleasure. One of the joys of leading a small school is that I do know all of our pupils, but reports give me a greater insight into their personalities, attitudes and aspirations as well as their academic achievement. I always say to staff, what parents want from a school report is to know that the teachers really understand their children—warts and all! There is no doubt that frequent grade cards give a useful snapshot of attainment and progress and can flag up any concerns. The written reports go beyond this, though—and that is why we still ensure that a full report is created for each pupil at least once a year.
Parents' evenings are also an important aspect of our reporting, and yesterday we invited our Prep parents to come and discuss all that their children have been learning this term. The Tapestry online system that keeps parents of Reception pupils in touch with their children's activities and progress will also be used in the Nursery when in opens in April.
We believe that the more we communicate with parents, the better it is for our pupils, so we are very pleased that after half term we will be launching our online Parent Portal, allowing all parents secure access to information about their children, including timetables, attendance and both current and historical school reports. More information about this will be sent out to families soon.
As half term approaches, I wish all of our pupils and parents a pleasant and refreshing break.
Today we welcomed plenty of families to our Open Doors event. They were taken on tours by our pupils and members of the PTA committee to see the school on an ordinary day—and were all very impressed by what they saw, in terms of the work going on in the classrooms, the facilities and the courtesy and confidence of our young people.
When I say it was an ordinary day, for Year 7 it has actually been a bit unusual, as they are enjoying cross-curricular activities based on the theme of Italy. Dressed in the colours of the Italian flag, they are designing masks for the Venetian carnival, listening to opera, learning some Italian phrases and making potato-based pizzas—much more delicious than they sound!
It is always important to involve our pupils in activities which can develop and enrich their appreciation of other cultures. We also continue to build their understanding of their own culture and have been focusing in assemblies and tutor time this term on what it really means to be British. We are lucky to live in a society that has throughout history embraced traditions, products, languages and religions from across the globe and we can celebrate this diversity.
It is particularly appropriate that our older pupils are being encouraged to consider ideas of Britishness as the country prepares to vote on whether or not we should remain a member of the EU. They have been given this quotation to consider in tutor time:
'Being British is about driving a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab to enjoy whilst sitting on Swedish furniture and watching American shows on a Japanese TV. Britishness like individuals is a mass of contradictions. We are what we think we are and ultimately there is nothing wrong with that if it inspires that sense of community and collective bond that patriotism can.'
Over the past two weeks, I have had the pleasure of interviewing our own pupils and external candidates for Sixth Form entry and for Year 7 and Year 12 scholarships. This is an ideal opportunity for me to get to know the pupils better and gives them valuable practice in interview technique. Those who impress most are not over-prepared but speak with genuine engagement and spontaneity. They take the process seriously, making sure they are well-presented and punctual, and a firm handshake and good eye contact convey confidence. Most importantly, they demonstrate enthusiasm, whether speaking about their specialisms in music or sport, for example, or answering some of my more challenging and unexpected questions. I am sure some of them leave my room wondering exactly how we got onto the subject of Viking invasions, land management or tight-rope walking!
At Gosfield, we recognise the importance of the so-called 'soft skills' that will stand our pupils in good stead in the future - but these soft skills can be hard to master. That is why we ask pupils to present in assemblies, take on leadership roles and organise House and charity events, to build their confidence and develop effective communication and interaction with others. We also offer activities that support this development, not least the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme.
Debra Searle MBE, British adventurer, author and Gold Award holder says that DofE 'enables a young person to develop their mind, body and soul... elevate their self-confidence, skills and aspirations.' This week, I trained as a DofE verifier; we are now an awarding centre and this allows us to approve awards and certify our candidates. The course I went on reminded me how enriching and challenging the programme is and how well respected it is by universities and employers, since it says so much about a young person's commitment and character.
As the league tables hit the headlines again, I have been reading with interest and empathy comments from fellow independent school heads on how they fail to tell the whole story about pupil performance. To start with, the data itself is far from easy to interpret: for example, the IGCSE examinations, which many pupils—including our own—sit as a rigorous and well-recognised alternative to GCSE in one or more subjects, are no longer counted. This is why some of the top schools in the nation have a 0% 5+ A*-C record for 2015. Also, the current tables do not take into account the progress that independent school pupils have made on an individual basis. Gosfield and many schools in our sector are non-selective, welcoming children with a range of abilities and helping them reach and surpass their target grades. We do recognise the importance of examinations, as good results open doors for our young people, but so do all the other things they gain from an independent education: confidence, resilience, creativity, communication skills, collaboration and leadership. We are immensely proud of all their achievements and how they reach their goals, be they places at world-class universities or apprenticeships with major companies. And they have fun and form lasting friendships along the way. I challenge any leagues tables to try and measure the significance of that.
Here are two links you may wish to follow to read more on this issue:
League tables: When does zero mean excellent?
School performance tables a "travesty against what schools set out to achieve"
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an assembly in Meadow Court led by Year 1 pupils—and what a super assembly it was! They were very excited about their recent work on castles and fairy tales, and had prepared all sorts of ways to share their learning with the other pupils. Dressed as knights and princesses, they gave a detailed and fascinating account of their trip to Colchester castle, where they had clearly learned a great deal (memorably about medieval toilets!), and told us about versions of fairy tales they have been reading. They spoke clearly and with confidence throughout and ended their assembly with a song about Goldiocks, complete with actions. I was most impressed at how much they had remembered, how well they expressed themselves and the poise they displayed. I congratulate Mrs Smith and all the Prep teachers on helping our youngest children develop not only knowledge, understanding and a love of learning but also the confidence and communication skills that will stand them in such good stead as they go through life.
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